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Compassion Instead of Criticism

“One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting everyone else to give it up. That is not the Christian way.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Spinning Plates

I used to try and maintain a perfect Christian existence. Have you ever attempted this impossible labyrinth of legalism? It appears as holiness but is rooted in your strength instead of God’s.

A perfect Christian existence requires spinning the plates of holiness at all times. Every delicate dish of relationship and acceptance of others exists on top of thin, tall sticks of religious performance. 

It is no wonder that approach leads to comparison, criticism, and burnout. You have to always spin, spin, spin, to keep the system going. Neither you nor anyone else is allowed to make mistakes. Wobble, spin, spin.

This balancing act led me to be overly critical of myself and others. Maybe you can see the same attributes in your life. Wobble, wobble, spin.

My help came across as judgment instead of love. Spin, spin, spin. Those close to me interacted with me as if they were stepping on thin ice that cracked with every step. Wobble, wobble, spin. They were afraid to make mistakes around me. Spin, wobble, CRASH! 

I thought to permit myself and others to make mistakes would be licensing compromise. In actuality, it would just be allowing people to be human. Let’s take the plates off of the fragile poles of human effort and place them back on the table of God’s loving-kindness. Spinning plates are impressive, but we can’t eat off of the inevitable shattered pieces. 

A Distorted Lens

“When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.”

– Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

When you have an impossible standard for yourself, you tend to hold others to the same requirements. It is like Judah Smith said in Jesus Is, “No sooner do I conquer a bad habit than I become the biggest critic of anyone who still does what I just stopped doing.” 

Wearing this distorted lens of Christianity causes you to judge others by their actions and yourself by your intentions. You need to take these wonky glasses off if you are going to get out of your spiritual rut. It is not an authentic way to live. It is just a survival mechanism of a graceless Christianity. 

The fruit from this kind of root leads to gossip and gaining false justification from your own religious activities. We can do better than this. 

Here is how you can take the first step.

Start with It 

“If you look for perfection, you’ll never be content.”

Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Until you can give yourself grace, you will not have compassion for anyone else. Expecting perfection causes you to see the cup of everyone else’s life as half empty.

Do not make people have to earn your kindness. Start with it. If not, you end up complaining more than encouraging. Making a change in this area will cause what was once an inconvenience to be an opportunity to reflect the love of God. Being a dispenser of grace fills your life with the kind of fruit that brings God glory and you meaning. When you start with grace, you become too busy enjoying your faith to get sidetracked by the things that pollute it.

Do not make people have to earn your kindness. Start with it. If not, you end up complaining more than encouraging. Making a change in this area will cause what was once an inconvenience to be an opportunity to reflect the love of God. Being a dispenser of grace fills your life with the kind of fruit that brings God glory and you meaning. When you start with grace, you become too busy enjoying your faith to get sidetracked by the things that pollute it.

This blog is an excerpt from my new mini-book, Surviving Religious Burnout, is out now. You can order it at Amazon, Kindle, Apple Books, and Barnes and Noble.

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The Case for Critics

4 Ways to Benefit From Your Critics

You may think I am crazy, but I believe there is a place for critics in our lives. We can benefit from them if we approach their feedback in the right way.

Shake the Haters Off?

A couple of friends of mine once asked me to pray over them at their wedding. Let me pause here and say I am not a very ceremonial person. I am, by nature, a little irrerevant. I communicate in a direct, casual way. If you win an award, please don’t call me to introduce you. It would be awkward for both of us.

So back to my friends’ wedding. It was beautiful, and I was honored to have the chance to pray over this couple in such a significant moment. The prayer started sophisticated enough. But towards the end, I guess I got a little excited. As I was wrapping up, I all of a sudden blurted out, “And shake the haters off in Jesus Name! Amen.”

They have not spoken to me since. Just kidding. They thought it was great, at least that it was they have led me to believe…

A lot of advice out there in regards to critics sounds like my wedding prayer – just shake the haters off. I don’t think that is always a great idea. That may surprise you, but here are a few reasons why.

4 Reasons to Listen to Your Critics

What if they’re not a critic?

Not everyone who gets labeled a hater is actually sipping hater-ade. We should be slow to dismiss good advice we may not want to hear because it doesn’t line up with our immediate plans. Sometimes a little constructive feedback is what we need to keep us from taking the next step prematurely. It can also be the very thing that helps us prepare to move forward when the time is right.

Take it as a compliment

When someone criticizes you it means they are taking time to think about you, your point of view, or what you have created. “Why thank you, Mr. Critic. I had no idea you were so obsessed with me!” LOL

But seriously, you don’t have the chance to get criticized if your ideas are not being elevated beyond your existing sphere of influence. Critics show your influence is growing. “Thanks again, Mr. Critic, for that reminder of how awesome I am!” 🙂

Turn lemons into lemonade

A critic is someone keenly aware of your faults. They may not have the most delightful way of bringing them up, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take advantage of their fault-finding. Those shortcomings are areas we need to address to get better. We can turn a critic’s lemons into lemonade whenever we ask them, “what do you mean by that,” and learn how we can get better, instead of getting defensive.

Destroy your enemies

I know that sounds kind of strong, but check out this quote from Abraham Lincoln:

“Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

Abraham Lincoln

When this becomes your strategy of dealing with critics, life becomes more fun. You have more friends and fewer enemies. Instead of getting entrenched in your opinion and lobbing online grenades at those who have a different perspective than you, you get to disarm people and possibly turn them into a fan.

What I am not saying

I don’t think you should take all criticism to heart. Obsessing over what people who don’t know you have to say about you is a wacky way to spend your time. On the other hand, offering people grace and understanding, even when they do not give it to you first, is a great way to begin to make a small change in your world. I also think it is a fantastic way to reflect Christ in a moment we can easily make about our feelings.

We shouldn’t ignore everything we don’t want to hear. At the same time, we also shouldn’t take everything others say to heart. We should listen, though. It can lead to some fantastic things.

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Benefits of Critics

4 Reasons to Listen to Your Critics

Many people say to ignore your critics. Don’t listen to them they say. Once during a wedding prayer of blessing, I actually prayed that the bride and groom would, “shake the haters off.” For some odd reason, people haven’t rushed to ask me to pray for them at their weddings after that.

I don’t know that this advice is always good. Sometimes I think we say “ignore your critics,” as a way to insulate ourselves from some tough things we don’t want to hear. This can lead us to even mistakenly identify people who are trying to help as people who are hurting us because they are sharing difficult truths with us.

But what do we do about the actual critics – the people who we can’t make happy no matter how hard we try? Is there anyone like that in your life? What do we do when folks keep getting drunk on the “haterade” or seem to always pull into work in their Navi-hater.

There are secret benefits of having critics, fault-finders, and unwelcomed commentators snickering behind you. All the greats had them. I don’t think you can stand for something worthy without having someone stand against you. If you turn to scripture instead of cultural expectations in your response to critics, you can tap into the benefits of those that seem to love to hate.

4 Benefits of Critics

Listen

Our friends are often hesitant to share things they know we may not want to hear. This is because they want us to like them. They keep our feelings in mind. Critics don’t care if you like them. They are not interested in our emotions. In some small way, this can be a good thing if we pause to ask ourselves if there is a grain of truth in what is being said.

We may not always agree, but we can always listen. Listening is a way we can show that we value people even when we may not agree with what they are saying.

Learn

Critics can broaden your appeal when we learn from their perspective. Maybe their attitude is wrong. Perhaps they have an agenda. But maybe we can also learn how to better reach someone with their outlook on things next time before they even become a critic.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” We should be looking to win people over and not just win arguments. We can’t do this if we do not slow down and learn from those that are different than us.

Lean-in

Suffering through some unfair criticism can cause us to lean into what matters most. It can hurt when we hear someone doesn’t like our idea, perspective, or well-intended actions. This can also give us the opportunity to evaluate if we are living for the approval of God or others.

We don’t always get to respond to our critics. At times we have to turn the situation over to God. In these moments, we are able to draw closer to Him and reflect the grace and mercy we have received from Him.

Don’t Linger

While we can learn from critics, and at times should even listen to them to build future bridges, we shouldn’t linger there. Some criticism offers a lesson in letting go and moving on when things are outside of our control.

We shouldn’t allow criticism to be a focus. If we are always concerned about avoiding critics or responding to them, then there is no time to just be who God made us to be. Doing the right thing at times will be criticized. It’s not always fair, but most of the time it is best to keep loving and moving forward.

Give them what they lack

I used to be an extremely critical person. No one or nothing was good enough for me. I realized along the way that my high standards were keeping me from enjoying the people God gave me in my life. Since then, I have started offering more grace to people. I have noticed though, that the last person we are willing to give grace to is the judgmental among us.

Why give mercy to someone who doesn’t show it to anyone else? Because that is apparently what they are in most need of because they don’t have any to spare. Give grace to your critics and over time their cup may eventually overflow and begin to refresh others as well.

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Dare Greatly

Overcoming Critics While Daring Greatly

2017 is almost over and I thought I would share one last post to wrap up the year. This is not an encompassing post to process all of 2017, but rather just a final thought.

The Critic

When I began my first position in full-time ministry in 2005 I framed a copy of “The Critic” to be displayed in my office. It’s a lengthy quote from Theodore Rosevelt but is worth the read.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Some people just like being a critic. Criticizing can even become part of your identify without even realizing it. A critical mindset is dangerous. It will cause you to justify the fear that keeps you from standing out and making a difference. Most critics can be found putting more energy into finding fault in others instead of next steps for themselves.

The Solo

When I was in Jr. High I played the drums. I chose this because if you are going to be in the band you might as well pick the coolest instrument possible. Our school’s symphonic band was actually extremely good. In preparation for our most important state-wide competition I was given a solo. This was a big moment for me. The only problem was the more we practiced the more I got it wrong.l I didn’t think I would ever get it right. To highlight my embarrassment one day after band practice a girl put me on blast in front of a group of friends.

“Why can’t you get your part right? You are going to ruin the competition for everyone!”

That stung pretty bad. Mostly because it was true. It’s true I was doing horrible, and that if I didn’t get it right it was going to ruin it for everyone.

Never Trust a Clarinet Player

You know what was also true though? It was true that I was given a solo and she wasn’t. It was true that she could hide in a large section of clarinet players and no one would ever know if she played or not. It was also true that the only reason she had the opportunity to criticize me is because I had the opportunity to stand out. If you can’t take the criticism then don’t do anything worth noticing. If you want to make a difference then you have to be willing to accept the criticism thats come along with being different.

Must critics like being a critic more than they actually want people to benefit from their criticisms. They are normally stuck in places where their decisions won’t make a difference but they are willing to criticize you as you make decisions that could. Don’t listen to someone hiding in the clarinet section when you have been given a drum solo. (Did I take the band illustration to far? If so, I apologize. Also, sorry to all the not-so-evil clarinet players at there. I am sure there at least one or two.)

The Crescendo

Eventually our competition came. Up to the final practice everyone in the band, especially our conductor, was nervous about whether I would be able to execute my solo. When the moment came and the entire band become silent I lifted my drumsticks to perfectly play the beat I had practiced so many times. We received the highest rating possible at that competition, but the most important lesson for me was to never listen to someone in the clarinet section on my way to do something that stands out.

Later on I would see this quote from Theodore Roosevelt. It would remind me that the only reason someone has the opportunity to criticize is because I am doing something worthwhile that they are not or they would be helping. I do not want a cold and timid soul. I want to know the thrill of a worthy cause and be someone who dares greatly. Here is to 2018 and daring greatly.